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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Staying Blue, by Gibbons Ruark





Staying Blue
poems
By Gibbons Ruark
Retail: $11.75(paper, perfect bound)
Publisher's Discount: $11.00 + Free SH
(http://www.losthillsbooks.com/book-stayingblue.html)



Go to www.english.udel.edu/ruark/ruarkgen.html for more information on Gibbons Ruark's distinguished career.

Gibbons Ruark's poems have appeared widely for nearly forty years in magazines like Ploughshares, The New Republic, The New Yorker, and Poetry, and in various anthologies and texts. They have also won the poet frequent awards, including three Poetry Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Pushcart Prize. Previously collected in A Program for Survival, Reeds, Keeping Company, Small Rain, Forms of Retrieval, and Rescue the Perishing, seventy of them appear in Passing Through Customs: New and Selected Poems, Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

(Gibbons Ruark is available for public readings. He may be reached by e-mail at gruark@udel.edu or by writing to 1805 Warwood Court, Raleigh, NC 27612.)
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Words to Accompany a Bunch of Cornflowers


Those beads of lapis, even the classical
Blues of dawn, are dimmed by comparison.
When I hand you this bunch of cornflowers
The only other color in the room
Illumines your eyes as you arrange them.

They are the blue reflection of whatever
Moves in you, serene as cool water tipped
Into crystal, oddly enough the willing bride
To a cloudy head of melancholy
So deeply blue it could prove musical.

This is the blue John Lee Hooker’s gravelly
Voice in the sundown field was looking for.
This is the unrequited dream of an iris.
Ice blue, spruce blue, little periwinkle blue—
Nothing else that dies is exactly so blue.



Little Porch at Night



Pull up a porch chair next to this chaise longue.
Tell me the empty dark will fill with voices
And talk to me before I end my song.

A summer night, and something has gone wrong
To rob the mild air of familiar faces.
Pull up a porch chair. Next to this chaise longue

A mother should be standing with her long
Hair tucked into a bun. Unwind those tresses
And talk to me before I end my song.

That vacant angle where a hammock hung
Adopts the whole moon in its loneliness.
Pull up a porch chair. Next to this chaise longue.

Summon the fireflies, matches struck and gone,
The Morse code of the stars who’ve lost their places,
And talk to me before I end my song,

For down there in the shallows should be strung
A taut line from a father to the sea he fishes.
Pull up a porch chair next to this chaise longue
And talk to me before I end my song.


Quarantine

Some things happened every year, no matter what:
The air cooled down a little after a storm,
The fireflies rose and fell in total silence,
Unlike those mournful gnats along the river
In that poem the lovelorn teacher read us
We were every one too young to understand.
The berries fell from the chinaberry tree
And left the back yard slithery underfoot.
But this was the year of Mama’s polio,
The summer when the epidemic kept us
On the block, then under the trees, and then,
When she came down with it and went away,
Behind the head-high railings of the balustrade.
Next door was the church, high sunlight angling
Through the steeple’s stained glass, unfolding then
Like a flickering board game on the floor.
I stood on the steps and hollered “Polio!”
Then came the parade of openhearted aunts,
Spelling each other, stern and sweet by turns,
One not caring if we saw her naked,
Since we were only children, after all.
Beautiful and young, an Army nurse in the war,
Milk-pale except for the dark touch here and there,
Did I dream she made us buttered toast and eggs
Before remembering to put her clothes on?
She died in childbirth, fifty years ago,
And I have wondered at her all my days.
When Mama came home, there was the wheelchair,
Strange, like a marvelous oversized toy,
And then the crutches and the metal braces.
Crutches I knew, big boys with football injuries,
But the braces were hinged and ominous,
Not Mama’s legs, not anything like them.
Only late at night could you not hear her coming.
Then she lay down and they were taken off
And stood till first light in a bedroom corner
Like parts of a skeleton, and she slept
As we all did, swimmers floating in a salt pond.
In those hours nobody needed to walk,
Unless you had to pee or the house caught fire.

3 comments:

John Drexel said...

Gibbons Ruark is one of the neglected masters of American poetry, with one foot planted in the soil of the New World (think Robert Frost), one in the Old (think Frost's English friend, Edward Thomas). But his neglect is our loss, not his.

I have been a great admirer of Ruark's poetry since I first, by happy chance, encountered his previous books, RESCUE THE PERISHING and PASSING THROUGH CUSTOMS (both of which I had the pleasure of reviewing for ARTS & LETTERS, Spring 2000). STAYING BLUE, though a "slim volume" and published by a small press I'd not heard of until now, only reinforces my previous admiration.

Ruark's poems evince traits that I greatly admire--among them, formal grace and elegance; unforced intimacy; a keen responsiveness to place and to the natural world and to memory. Moreover, he knows the value of time and of experience; and this knowledge--I should say wisdom--is evident in every line he writes.

A confirmed formalist, Ruark has a marvelous ability to write fine, long, complex sentences whose syntax remains lithe and clean, never forced or clotted, whose cadence is at once elegiac and celebratory. He knows that poems are artifice; but his never sound artificial. Almost alone among living American poets, he shares with his Irish contemporaries an ability to shape the memorable phrase that lies easily on the page and sounds even more easily, and naturally, in the ear. Indeed, so perfectly constructed and formed are his poems that, once read, they are not easily forgotten.

I can think of no higher tribute than to confess that there are many poems by Gibbons Ruark that I would have loved to have written myself. His poems echo in the mind, and lodge there, long after the page is turned. But don't take my word for it. Reader: Read him.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Mr. Drexel, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I have long admired Gib Ruark's poetry, and although I don't entirely agree that he is neglected to any greater extent than some other excellent poets in this country, I appreciate your perspective. The American poetry scene is capacious, perhaps in the extreme, and often the best poetry is overwhelmed by the more fashionable verse that is being churned out by our MFA engines. One of my goals in maintaining this website is to show the various poetic voices that this small section of the US has to offer. I hope you will return often to this site to read what North Carolina poets have to offer both the national and the international literary community.

K. Simmonds said...

Thank you! Just read his work on Poetry Daily and I share your admiration for this man. Such lyric complexity and emotional acuity. I will read more of his work.